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Monday, October 13, 2014

"The Weapon" by Fredric Brown

First appeared in Astounding. Reprinted by Groff Conklin, Michael Sissons, Isaac Asimov, Terry Carr, James Sallis, William F. Goodykoontz, Theodore W. Hipple, Robert G. Wright, J. E. Pournelle, Martin H. Greenberg, and Gregory Benford.

Summary:
A stranger named Niemand enters Mr. Graham's house. Niemand has come to get Graham to rethink his weapon, but Graham is uninterested, not to mention annoyed, wondering how to rid himself of the stranger. When Graham fetches a drink, Niemand visits Graham's mentally handicapped son, Harry. He gives Harry a gift. When Graham sees what it is, he sweats.
Commentary & Spoilers:
"only a madman would give a loaded revolver to an idiot."
What Niemand has done is paralleled Graham's action in a cruel way. The gun, of course, is a nuclear weapon, and the idiots whoever is in charge of them. Depending on your perspective, you may or may not agree that the metaphor is perfect, but it provokes thought.

Brown signals immediately what he's up to:
"The room was quiet in the dimness of early evening."
Earth, too--this room we inhabit--is ultimately a limited space. When discharging something so sweeping as a nuclear bomb, the effects spread, making the Earth feel smaller. The dimness also presents a problem in limiting our ability to see. And it is evening, or the death of day, should a grand nuclear war occur.

Like M.R. James' "Casting of the Runes," we can't be certain who the madman or mad scientist is in this case. Possibly both. Niemand made his point, but his ethics are dubious at best. The same could be said of Graham.

This is not only one of my favorite Fredric Brown stories but also a favorite in SF. Brilliant execution. Go forth and read.

Notes:

  1. Niemand means "nobody" in German.
  2. Graham means "gray home."
  3. Harry means "persistently harass." 
  4. Chicken Little -- the chicken who said "The sky is falling" although it was not. Niemand hopes this story is always true.

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